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Summer Project: More analysis, fewer mistakes

At the one-year anniversary of this site, it’s time to take stock.

We’ve got a bunch of mistakes — a couple hundred, at this point. A ton of Trigonometry mistakes. A bunch of Algebra material. Not much from middle school or elementary school, though maybe that’ll change next year. (I’d like it to.)

I’ve had moments of doubt over the last few months, wondering whether this project might have run out of steam. Already in late November, I came to think that the site wasn’t serving its original purpose of challenging teachers to engage deeply with perplexing student work. Over the course of the year I’ve heard from some of you who use the mistakes on the site to create materials for students, and I appreciate that among other things, this site serves as a filing cabinet for student work. (Truth be told, I’ve only used mistakes from this site in my own classroom once or twice. It’s not an important part of my repertoire.)

To my mind, the biggest success of this project is the work that I did with exponents. And when I’ve angsted about the future of the site to other teachers, the thing that they’ve tried to tell me is that the sort of large-scale, synthetic analysis is what they value the most.

The problem is that this sort of big analysis is difficult. I don’t know how to reproduce it on anything like a consistent basis.

More and more, though, I’m wondering if I just need to dive into it more consistently. If I make a project of closely analyzing mistakes, maybe I can find patterns and trends that will tie some of these things together. If things go well, maybe I can inspire some of you to take the helm of the blog to expand on your own theories and ideas.

For what it’s worth, I think that this sort of deep, synthetic analysis of trends in student work can be especially powerful for teachers. In particular, the exponents work wasn’t just interesting, but it was fruitful — a lot of good lesson ideas emerged out of that analysis. Ultimately, I think that those lesson ideas are what most of us are chasing.

For the rest of the summer, you can expect new mistakes to be posted sporadically, at best. Instead, you can expect at least one blog post of deep analysis a week.

(Interested in writing a guest post? Drop a line!)

2 replies on “Summer Project: More analysis, fewer mistakes”

I am a first year teacher and will be teaching 8th grade math. I had a college professor who HIGHLY encouraged us to use common student misconceptions in our planning, so that we can anticipate them and facilitate discussion around them (a Five Practices model - but there is an article out there somewhere that will summarize well enough for free, I’m sure). I thought she was full of crap until I realized how powerful that practice really is. Needless to say, when I found your blog, I was thrilled.

I really do believe that a blog like this one is crucial to helping me plan lessons of value and to promote worthy discussions in my classroom. I would appreciate it if you kept up the (hard, thankless) work. I will visit this site often.

I think it’s great that you are getting mostly high school errors. There’s a great book already about errors in arithmetic (Error Patterns in Computation by Ashlock), but nothing as well put together for higher levels. That’s what (one thing at least) makes this web site more valuable.

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